Living on the east coast of Canada and being an avid hiker you hear all the time about Mount Khatadin. A challenging mountain hike in Baxter State Park in Millinocket, Maine. Baxter Peak is the highest peak in Maine and it is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The park is fairly accessible and the mountain has a variety of access points which allow for multiple hikes with different levels of challenge depending on your ability level and available time.
Kirby and I hiked Khatadin a couple of years ago. It was on my bucket list so I added it to our schedule which meant one very wet Friday morning we took off for Maine. The drive from Saint John was 5-6 hours, the roads inside Maine become fairly small so make sure you have lots of time. We planned to have lunch in Millinocket when we arrived and then head to park to pitch the tent and take a short hike before bed to shake off the day in the car.
I am not sure what we were expecting of this town but it was a very sad story. Millinocket was a robust town powered by industry. Unfortunately, in recent years the paper mills in the town and area have closed down and that has forced many of the businesses to close and many people to leave the town. As we drove around we saw many for sale signs both on real property and chattels (cars, boats etc.) which showed the need in the community.
We ended up eating in a dinner where the population was white haired but the food was old school and delicious.
Camping and a short hike
As you enter Baxter State Park there is an information centre you need to have a park pass and the rangers were very friendly and help show us around the park and suggest a hike for us to take that evening. They also mentioned there were some bears or moose in the area and just to be aware…
That night we camped at Roaring brook campground because that was our starting point for the hike the next day. The brook is truly roaring and it is actually better to book a site a little ways away from the water because personally it would have kept me up at night.
The campground was well kept and very clear. We got set up and took off for the hike suggested by the ranger around the lake. The evening was warm and the sun was shining by this point and it is still a couple of years later one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
The next morning we got up early. We had a big hike planned so we wanted to be on the trail for 8am, to try to miss the crowds if nothing else but also because we expected to be on the trail for about 10 hours.
We packed up the campsite (because the plan was to stay at a nearby cottage that night) and moved the car to hiker parking. There is not a lot of hiking at roaring brook so I would suggest buying a parking pass in advance.
At the ranger station at the start of the roaring brook trail there is a sign-in sheet and they do ask people to sign in so that they know everyone is off the mountain at the end of the night, otherwise I am told they head up to find anyone who hasn’t signed out. It is interesting at the end of the day to see how long people were out and where people came from for this hike – they come from all over.
From Roaring Brook you can go west and along Helon Taylor and along Knife’s Edge to Baxter Peak or you can head inland on the Chimney Pond Trail which is a tried up creek bed, which means it is all rocks.
We decided to go up Hamlin Ridge, across Saddle to Baxter’s Peak and back down Cathedral (See note below) which takes you back to Chimney Pond and eventually roaring Brook once again. FYI – There are other ascents possible that will take less distance and will be challenging over a shorter period of time.
Hamlin Ridge takes you off to the right. You are in the trees for about 1/3 of the climb and then you emerge above the treeline to amazing views and large rocks. I have short legs so it was interesting to get up and over some of those larger rocks. Kirby on the other hand must be part goat because he was bounding up that mountain like it was nothing. Then again at one point I was also passed by a 60ish woman (who encouraged me and then then went up to Kirby to ask if I was okay…) with her 3 similarly aged friends…
The view from the top was breathtaking and the peak is 4756ft compared to Baxter’s 5267ft. What Kirby loved the most was that after accomplishing this not insignificant feat we then came down over 1000ft through the saddle trail only to climb again up to Baxter’s Peak – really he was “thrilled”.
This is where the action is. Baxter’s peak is the location of the sign that ends the Appalachian trail. You see the sign a lot in pictures of anyone who makes it to the top – and really they deserve it, it is not for the faint of heart.
Along Saddle ridge you remain above the treeline so it is all rocks but the rocks are much smaller and the path is much smoother. The final climb to the peak is granular, grapefruit sized rocks that have you slipping and sliding around, just in case you needed an added challenge at the end of the day.
That being said the view from the top was worth every moment on the trail. We completely lucked out with a perfect day that was clear, warm and sunny. We sat at the top and enjoyed the view for a while… But what goes up must come down…
I would suggest that you read lot of materials about your route and make sure that what you have chosen is doable. I had planned to come down Cathedral but in speaking with some fellow hikers along the way we were advised that Cathedral is only good for going up as it is far too steep and unstable for a descent. So we opted to come down Saddle, which turned out to be hard enough and steep enough as it was. There are also a lot of loose rocks so you have to be careful not to kick one off and hit someone in the head.
Just for the record where Kirby excels going up I excel getting down. Not sure if it is the flexibility from yoga or the motivation for a cold beer and a burger but I scooted down that rock face at a pretty good clip.
Hiking this mountain was very hard on the feet. It is mostly rock the whole hike. There are many places where you are scaling a 1 metre tall boulder. I would suggest making sure you have good quality footwear with solid ankle support and a good solid base. I have a leather hiker with a ½ shank of support under the foot and I really wished I had something more solid. Kirby’s Solomon’s with a full shank were more supportive and he didn’t find it as hard because he had a bit more support on all of the rocks.
I’ll be honest I have not done a lot of mountain hiking. One of the key differences with most of the trails I have done in the past is that on a mountain there is very little water. We had brought 3 litres with us which was not enough. By the time we got to Baxter’s Peak we had about 300ml left which we shared and then wished we had more.
On the way down the mountain we found a stream and luckily were able to refill be but it was a good reminder that you need to take enough water with you to get through your hike and be hydrated.
There was a group of 6 20somethings behind us coming down Saddle. They were French (from France) and spoke very little English. We tried to shake them (they were loud) but they kept ending up behind us. They had nothing with them and had very bad footwear (one girl was in sandals) for the terrain.
When we stopped to refill our water they were finally behind us and as they went to pass us they stopped. They had one water bottle between them (probably 1.5 litres in size) which was empty. They huddled off nearby watching us fill our bottles. Finally the girl came over and asked if we could fill their bottle for them, which we gladly did. It made me want to smack them because without proper gear they could have gotten into real trouble but instead we wished them well and waited a while. Even behind them a ways we heard them sing and talk all the way back to the campground.
There are a lot more trails that we could have taken and because we had already done Hamlin we didn’t have time, water or energy for Knife’s Edge. Guess we just have to go back and tackle that one!
After a very long day of hiking we had booked a cabin at the New England Outdoor Centre. This lovely facility has a main lodge with a restaurant on the edge of Khatadin Lake and with a spectacular view of Mount Khatadin. When we first arrived we learned they have cold beer on tap and plastic cups which meant we could take a cold beer back to the cabin as we got ready for dinner.
Their cabins are lovely and we were glad after such a long hard hike to stay in a bed and take a shower. They had two big bedrooms and a lovely kitchen, I could have stayed there longer and would have loved to go back and take advantage of more of the activities within the park.
The restaurant was lovely and the view was perfect as we discussed the day while looking at the mountain we had just conquered. As an added bonus there was a wedding in the tent out on the lawn in front of the lodge so we also got the show of watching the wedding reception, which included one (apparently very drunk) “uncle” dancing up a storm.
It was a hard day but a gorgeous place that I would definitely recommend to anyone looking for a challenge and to see something amazing!